During the Cold War, the great powers devoted great efforts to obtain information that offered them strategic advantages.
In the 1960s, satellite communications began to develop, and the interception of those communications became a target for intelligence services. In 1971, the Soviet Union began construction of a satellite communications spy center in Irbene, in northern Latvia (then occupied by the USSR, which had invaded in 1940). The code name for this center was Zvezda (Star). The spy center had two huge antennas, one called RT-32, with a diameter of 32 meters, and another smaller one, RT-16. 16 meters in diameter.
Next to the spy center, the Soviets built a residential area for the family of military personnel who worked at this base. Irbene's Zvezda base was so secret it didn't even show up on maps. So families made their living entirely there. There were shops, a sports hall and a school.
Twenty years after the construction of that secret base, in 1991, Latvia regained its independence, and the Russians abandoned Irbene two years later. The large RT32 antenna was transferred to the Latvian Academy of Sciences. Irbene became part of the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center (VSRC). Today work is underway to convert those large antennas into radio telescopes. The residential area of Irbene has become a ghost town.
Yesterday the group of Polish urban explorers Urbex History published an interesting video showing the RT-32 antenna and the ghost town of Irbene (the video is in Polish but has English subtitles, you can activate them in the bottom bar of the player):
You can see here some captures of the video. Here is an image of Irbene's large RT-32 antenna. When it is successfully converted into a radio telescope, it will be the largest in Europe.
The residential area is in this poor condition after 30 years of neglect after the Russian withdrawal.
Polish explorers have also toured some underground galleries in Irbene.
In those galleries you can see something as unexpected and macabre as this. Maybe a souvenir from the Russians?
Main photo: Google Street View.
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